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mrocktor
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I started to think about this while reading a thread on border control. In a free society there would be no government intervention except for the protection of rights. Assume someone is entering the country and at the border declares to be carrying 10lbs of plastic explosive.

Should he be questioned as to what purpose he has so much explosives? i.e. does the government have the right to do so? Why?

Assuming that the person has a record of affiliation with a terrorist organization, should the explosive be siezed? Should the person be arrested? How much evidence is suficient?

In essence, when no crime has been commited, is it ever within the government's authority to use force? What is the objective standard as to when this is acceptable, if at all? If not, how does that affect crime prevention?

mrocktor

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Assume someone is entering the country and at the border declares to be carrying 10lbs of plastic explosive.

Should he be questioned as to what purpose he has so much explosives? i.e. does the government have the right to do so? Why?

This is in instance of the "threat" question, and the answer is based on the same principle as the one that might justify making it a crime to possess nuclear weapons. The amount matter, of course. I do not see any objective justification for "entry-only" crimes. If it is just to arrest a person for having 10 lbs of plastic explosives in the US, then it is equally just to prevent a person from coming in to the country with the same thing. If it is proper to require a person to justify having 10 lbs of plastic explosives within the US, then it is right to require a person to justify bringing it in. And if it is not right to require people to justify an act within the US, it is not right to make that requirement for people coming into the US.

Setting aside the entry issue, you're asking whether it is right for the government to protect against threats of violent acts, and not just the actual act. The answer is that is it proper for the government to protect against threatened violence. The more difficult issue is, how do you judge threats. Here is a thread that discusses threats.

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Presumably the government would be allowed to use precautionary force if it had 'reasonable grounds' to suspect that a person was going to commit a crime. The phrase 'reasonable grounds' is of course vague and would have to be interpreted by a judge on a case-by-case basis since you cant make a law which covers all possible eventualities (compare to 'reasonable force' as used in self-defence discourse).

Edited by Hal
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Hal,

The two currently used relevant phrases are "reasonable suspicion" (which is still based on Terry v. Ohio) and "minimal force necessary to stop the threat". I don't see a particular problem with the way you phrased either, but I just wanted to clarify the current terminology. Of course, my comment assumes a US jurisdiction.

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At the moment, this topic is in the Questions about Objectivism forum. The question posed, however, is a question of law, based on political principles, not a question about the philosophy Ayn Rand created. Also, the question is a specialized question, not a basic one.

Edited by BurgessLau
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Thanks for the link David, and thank you for moving the thread to the political forum - I was unsure about whether I should post here or in the "questions" forum.

Having read the thread on threats, I think it addresses the issue in part but not fully.

The question that remains unanswered is this: if someone has tons of explosives at home, or successfully builds a small thermonuclear device - no crime has been commited.

On what authority would the government question him as to his intent? How do we objectively draw a line as to what presents enough of a risk of a rights violation to warrant governmental intervention?

mrocktor

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4th amendment protections at the international borders are much lower than on the streets. I wouldn't think Terry v. Ohio at international border crossings.

I think in Objectivistan all land is private so the government would not control who could enter the country. The property owner of the land on the border would decide who can enter his land. To get any further into the country would require the OK from other land owners.

If the borderland owner found someone trespassing he would call the police but only at that point could the government interfere. I don't see how a government could force border patrols, border posts, border searches, etc. on land owners in a capitalist society.

Regarding the neighbor with nukes, in an Objectivist world he would have to have traded with others to obtain the materials to build his weaponry - this requires quite a bit of commerce. Presumably, this was done without coercion so it is OK. If you don't like it you might want to move or talk to the neighbors and shipping companies, etc. to try and get some collective non-coercive action to get your neighbor to change his plans.

You don't draw the line - you live with the risk or get out of town. The alternative is a police state, to one extent or another depending where you draw the line ... and then later decide to redraw and redraw. Live amongst those you trust and build outward rather than try and control the lives of others - tinkering with nukes might be fun for some people, why deprive them of their fun?

I think these extreme situation scenarios don't take into account that situations evolve differently in a free society than they do in our type of society. The options and methods of recognizing and resolving issues would differ in a free world.

There is usually no truly objective line with intent, it tends to have a subjective component - whether the person thought there was a threat. Two people faced with the same situation - one can think there is a threat and the other can think otherwise. Even if it would have been reasonable for both to think threat, are both allowed to use force or just the one who gauged the situation as a threat? If only one then subjective beliefs have a role to play rather than just the objective facts of the situation. If you look only at the objective facts then you are saying someone can use force even if they don't believe they are threatened.

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You don't draw the line - you live with the risk or get out of town. The alternative is a police state, to one extent or another depending where you draw the line ... and then later decide to redraw and redraw. Live amongst those you trust and build outward rather than try and control the lives of others - tinkering with nukes might be fun for some people, why deprive them of their fun?
My main concern is that they will incinerate me while having fun, not to mention the fact that I don't care if they are planning to have fun by obliterating New York City in a huge gnarly fireball a la Terminator. The fundamental choice is not anarchy vs. a police state, but rather living in a civilized society where rights are respected, vs. not. While I generally agree that if you don't like the neighborhood you should leave rather that impose zoning laws on your neighbors, we're not looking for a system of government that only works if utopic assumptions are realised -- we're looking for a system of government that will work even if there are bad people. I am all for a nuke-park where people can blow up A-bombs on the 4th of July, as long as it does not threaten me. I know I'm being unimaginative, but I can't imagine how that can possibly be done while respecting my rights.
There is usually no truly objective line with intent, it tends to have a subjective component - whether the person thought there was a threat. Two people faced with the same situation - one can think there is a threat and the other can think otherwise.
There's a huge difference between the judgment of threat being subjective and it being contextual. The fact that two people may be threatened differently has very much to do with their differences in knowledge. If you know that the punk in question is just being annoying (maybe you know the punk, or he's a member of an annoying but rights-respecting gang), you might judge his actions as not threatening your existence, where someone else who didn't know him would not have the knowledge required to reach that conclusion. Or, you might know your abilities and could know that you could smite him with one blow, whereas a little old lady might not have that confidence in her self-defensive skills and therefore would correctly conclude that she should shoot the future assailant.
Even if it would have been reasonable for both to think threat, are both allowed to use force or just the one who gauged the situation as a threat?
There has to be an objectively measurable threat; one question that you would be asked under oath is whether you feared for your life (I'm assuming that you killed the jerk). If there is no objective basis for your killing (or wounding) the person, you'll do time. Although Texas might be one exception where you can just assert fear... I don't understand their law. You not only have to feel threatened, but that feeling has to be objectively supported by fact.
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I didn't suggest anarchy - I am quite happy to be able to call the government provided police when there are trespassers, and I said that. Btw, What makes you (DavidOdden) think I am assuming there are no bad people?

I am strictly limiting the role of the government though to be not proactive in this case (building a weapon). That's my call and I think it works, without any utopian assumptions. I realize I could be wrong. We are all trying to find out how far we can go in limiting government. I do not advocate anarchy. Given what we know about free men and governments, I just think it is more utopian to believe that it is better to rely on the government than free people to handle situations like neighbors building nukes. That's my current conclusion based on my own study of history, law, etc. I think coming up with these unusual disaster scenarios allows one to come up with excuses for bigger more intrusive government when it isn't necessary.

Bad people tend to be excluded if people are allowed the ability to exclude others; insurance companies may not want certain activities to be performed within homes they insure; road owners may have restrictions against transporting uranium; etc. I would rather rely on ___the possibility__ of these processes unfolding over time than giving the government too much scope on determining threats __within our society__. As far as threats posed from abroad, I am more open, at the moment, to giving government wider scope to act - e.g. having spies, etc. in foreign countries.

The law uses the term "subjective" to indicate what the particular person perceived, and "objective" to indicate what a reasonable person should have perceived. I don't think "context" is a legal term used in this analysis. (I like to study law but am not an attorney so I could be wrong.)

I think currently the law requires a "substantial step" (an action), that takes the actor beyond just planning, for the government to be able to intervene in situations. What this "step" is depends on the situation. There might be some interesting common law history on the matter that might help see how the issue has been addressed. In a free market world where all land is private, it is hard to imagine how the police system really works so how police gain information and how they can act is probably difficult for us to really understand.

Another issue to consider is that people involved in hazardous actions generally have duties imposed on them to safeguard others. People building nukes can be intruded upon, possibly, to ensure they are taking the proper safeguards. This of course raises more issues but it is another avenue to explore.

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